Saturday, February 28, 2009

Spirit of '76

The Knicks lost six more games than they won during the 1975-76 season. They finished in fourth place in the four-team Atlantic Division. The Philadelphia 76ers, meanwhile, finished above .500 and in third place in the Atlantic. Neither team was very good. The Sixers were trotting out Billy Cunningham, Daryl Dawkins and World B. Free while the Knicks had an aging Clyde Frazier, Pearl and Dollar Bill on the roster. Still, one of these teams eked out a few more wins than losses and reached the playoffs. Last night felt a lot like '76.

Because if these Knicks fall short of the eighth seed in the East then this will be a night that I will think back to. Although losses to the Lakers and Cavs and Celtics a few weeks back garnered far more press it will be losses like last night's defeat to Philly that will have sunk this team. The Knicks are gunning for mediocrity. Which means that they are allowed to lose to the elite teams. It's great to defeat the Celtics in one out of four games. But, I'd rather beat the StolenSonics in two out of two games. To stay alive long enough to print up playoff rally towels the Knickerbockers cannot drop games to the teams in their in own welterweight class. Teams like the Sixers. Like the Clippers. Like the Warriors. Or the StolenSonics. These four losses are far more devastating than the three home losses during that "dream week."

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Post Is Prologue: 76ers @ Knicks

Philadelphia 76ers
@
Knicks
7:30 P.M. EST
Madison Square Garden


Aside from yours truly, no one wants to go and see the Knicks play the Sixers on a Friday night at the Garden. They have dates with girls. They have to babysit toddlers. They have to go do drugs in the suburbs. They have to make trips to Maryland. They have to study for the bar exam. Not me. I have nothing else to do. So, I'l be there. As alone in New York as Stephon Marbury has been (provided you subbed out anonymity for animosity).

This game is big for the Knicks. A win tonight excuses the excusable loss to the Orlando Magic. It gives the Knicks a chance to pick up a game against the Milwaukee Bucks, who currently sit in the eighth spot in the East (and hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Knicks). The Bucks are playing the Hornets tonight. They should drop that game just like we should have dropped Wednesday's tilt with Orlando.

Vote for WWOD?, Again

WWOD? Is Competing in a 64-Blog Debate Tournament

A few weeks ago I was invited to participate in a debate tournament pitting sports bloggers against one another. The tourney is being hosted by the good folks at Sports2Debate.com. As anyone who has spent any time with me can attest, I have plenty of practice in attempting to convince people that my point of view about a certain sporting topic is correct. It can be tiresome. I know. Trust me, I know. But, seriously, the Mets should sign Manny...

But, if it's for a good cause (personal gain at the expense of others) then I figured that I should throw my hat in the squared circle. In the first round I drew a fellow who actually works for the site hosting the tournament. Which seemed a little dubious. But, I charged ahead, nonetheless. We debated which NBA team that is currently playing to a sub .400 record is most likely to reach the playoffs soonest and to make some noise in the second season. I chose the Washington Wizards. My opponent chose the Toronto Raptors.

We both believed the path to the postseason was easiest in the (L)Eastern Conference. And for my worthy foe, the path of least resistance was the main concern and the main reason that he chose the Raptors. He was convinced that their presence in the anemic Atlantic Division made them the choice here. I disagreed. Vehemently. I believe that the Wiz, also being in the East, have only a marginally harder road to travel and will be buoyed by the returns of Gilbert Arenas and Brandon Haywood next season whereas the Raptors have no obvious means of supplementing the team that has performed so poorly this season. For me it came down to which of the teams to choose from had obvious means to drastically improve the talent that they put on the floor. And, the Wiz were hands down the winners in this regard. No one is going to be adding a player of Agent Zero's caliber. Not too mention that the Wiz will be in line for one of the top three picks in the draft.

Anyway, the voting is going on over that this website. Get over there and VOTE FOR WWOD?. Yes we can.


UPDATE: And, we did it. I'm moving on to the second round of the Blog Madness Debate Tournament over at Sports2Debate.com. Thanks to whomever made it over there to vote. I'm not sure who I'm facing in the second round or what the topic is. But I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Four-Quarter Loss in Five Acts

German dramatist and novelist Gustav Freytag contended that a drama was divided into five acts. This differed from the long-held view, established by Aristotle that a drama was composed of three acts, a beginning, middle, and end.

Act 1/The Exposition: In which the starting five of the New York Knicks open up the game fast on their home floor before a dependably passionate crowd. Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard looks bigger and stronger and wider than everyone else on the floor. Like, by a lot. The level plane of his broad shoulders and the perpendicular straightness of his torso seems some geometric exercise while his irreconcilable combination of bulk and agility make it clear why Euclidean space could not be used to chart all natural phenomenon. As much as this is a game of giants, there are few players that really look so impressive when amongst their peers. Howard is one such player. He blocks the Knicks' first shot attempt of the game. The tone is set. The paint is his. Still, the Knicks are competing. Chris Duhon logs an early steal and assists on four of the first five Knicks makes. All the Knicks' points are scored by David Lee and Al Harrington. The sub-.500 Knicks lead the division-leading Magic, 11-7, and are not bowing before their superior opponent.

Act 2/Rising Action: With the main characters in place and the relationships betwixt them established, the Knicks go on to miss 17 of their next 19 shots. During this stretch of ineptitude, Howard scored ten points, grabbed nine boards and blocked two more shots. Although the Knicks established in Act 1 that they are not going to meekly against the favored Magic, they established in Act 2 that they just aren't as good. Or, at least as consistent. Quentin Richardson is either injured or done. Or both. Larry Hughes is worse. The Magic extend their lead to 10 points by the end of the first quarter and pad the bulge shortly after the second quarter gets underway. The Knicks porous defense is exposed by their own lack of shotmaking and coach Mike D'Antoni gets the angriest that I've seen him all season long after Hedo Turkolgu gets by Larry Hughes, David Lee and Chris Duhon on one drive to the rim. The Knicks coach demonstratively calls a timeout immediately after the basket and berates his team. Hughes seemed to have thought that Lee was going to switch onto the Turk and Lee seemed to think that Hughes was going to stick with him (or Lee just didn't care). After Turkoglu left Lee and Hughes behind, he passed Duhon on his way to the rim. The basket pushed the Magic lead to 41-26. With Turkoglu introduced as a key character, the Magic's supporting cast shepherds the lead through the half and into the the third quarter, at which point Howard and Turkoglu resume control of the contest. All told, they managed to keep the Magic lead hovering around the 14-point mark that Hedo had created when he angered D'Antoni.

Act 3/Climax: With less than a minute and a half remaining in the third quarter, Wilson Chandler canned a three-point shot that pulled the Knicks within ten points for just the third time since the first quarter, 77-69. First-year forward Danilo Gallinari checked in shortly thereafter and the wham-bam, set-piece battle of this tale was joined. Turkoglu did all he could to snuff out the Knicks' comeback bid before it began but his attempts (he scored 10 straight spanning the third and fourth quarters) were not enough. Nate Robinson and Wilson Chandler continued to pull the Knicks ever closer. All the while, the baby-faced Gallo was cleaning the glass and looking overmatched on the offensive end. But, really, seriously. He was biding his time. Scheming and plotting to take down Superman and the high-powered Orlando Magic. As Robinson (who went for 30+ points, again) brought the team closer and closer. As the minutes ticked down. As things grew more heated. Gallinari knew his time was coming. With the game clock showing less than two minutes and the scoreboard showing 103-94, Gallo sank a three-point shot. 103-97. It was a two possession game and the Garden was rallying behind their heroes (as Clyde would say). Hedo, Dwight and co. leaned their shoulders into their trembling defenses. It seemed like the castle walls protecting their nearly game-long lead would fall. Gallo hit another two and assisted a Nate three. After Magic guard Rafer Alston hit just 1 of 2 free throws, the precocious Italian rookie hit another three-point shot. It was a two-point game! 109-107.

Act 4/Falling Action: With 24 seconds to play, it was a one-possession game. The Knicks had stormed all the way back to within a bucket. The Magic had the ball, though. And the animated directions coming from head coach Stan Van Gundy on the sideline were keeping them focused on the matter at hand. In spite of all that had transpired in the preceding minutes they would be just fine. If they could hit some free throws and get one stop on defense. And, they did hit free throws. Rafer Alston went to the line and nailed two. But, the Magic couldn't get the stop they needed. Nate the Great got to the rim for a layup. Again it was a two-point game. And, again the Magic had the ball. Van Gundy called a timeout this time. To calm his team. To coach his team. The clock showed 17 seconds. It was an eternity. But one that they could enjoy if they hit free throws. And inbound the ball. Given the ball at midcourt, the Magic had to burn their final timeout after being unable to inbound the ball against the active Knicks defense. Al Harrington (with a little help from Spike Lee) was a twirling mass of arms of legs and kept Turkoglu from finding a teammate. If the Knicks were able to keep the Magic from inbounding the ball in the allotted five seconds then they would get it back with a chance to tie the game. Or, perhaps they could turn the Magic over just as they did to Indiana in a similar situation on Monday. Alas, they didn't. The Magic successfully inbounded the ball.

Act 5/Denouement:Once the ball was successfully inbounded the battle was effectively ended. There was no choice but to foul. Rashard Lewis calmly stepped to the line and sank two free throws. After a furious comeback by the Knicks and some clutch shots by Gallinari the Magic were able to reestablish the status quo. The Knicks would get the ball back and the Magic would shoot more free throws in the remaining seconds but the action was complete as the game resolved itself as so many do. Quietly and at the free throw line. After so much running and gunning, the Knicks could do little but watch in the end.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

And So It Goes

Marbury and Knicks Reportedly Agree to Buyout

Our long national nightmare is over. And for that I am glad. Stephon Marbury and the Knicks have parted ways. And, Marbury is free to sign elsewhere and participate in the postseason with any new club.

Forgetting (for the time being) how we arrived here, I'm glad that this chapter in Knicks history ended this way. I know that many Knicks fans and New Yorkers wish that the organization kept him from playing elsewhere. But that never appealed to me. I don't think it was the right move for Walsh and D'Antoni as they look to open a new era in franchise history. And I don't think that Steph deserved it. The guy may be an undereducated and self-involved flake but he didn't deserve to be kept from playing basketball.

There will be more - too much more - to come on this later. Stay tuned. Or avoid this space.

The Man of Steal

Super-Hero Nate Steals Inbound Pass, Seals Win

In the moment that mattered most, it didn't matter how we'd gotten there. It didn't matter that the Knicks had blown a lead. It didn't matter that the Knicks had allowed even more middling Pacers get off for huge nights in our building. All that mattered was thirty seconds and the ball. All that mattered was getting the ball back from the other team and scoring more points than they did before the buzzer sounded to end the game. That's all that mattered.

Jeff Foster had already tried once to inbound the ball for the Indiana Pacers. He'd failed to find an open teammate while standing underneath the basket the Knicks were defending. The F/C had a called a timeout for fear of turning the ball over with a five-second violation. Foster and teammate Jarret Jack were visibly arguing as they headed to the opposite end of the floor to hear what inbounds play their coach was going to call for the next attempt to put the ball in play.

When both teams returned to the floor, Foster was again handed the ball underneath the basket. He looked and pumped and he couldn't find anyone to throw it to. Finally, he tried to lob it out to the wing on the near sideline. Over the first row of defense along the baseline and towards the guard at the top of the key. Faster than a locomotive, Nate Robinson speeds in (knowing where Foster's outlet was and baiting him into throwing just like he learned lining up in the secondary as a football player). He grabs the ball and speeds down court, crossing the equator and burning for the right side of the rim. He lays it in. Two points. Knicks lead.

Flying down court before a raucous Garden crowd, Nate slaps five with comedian Will Ferrell for yet another time. Shake and bake. That just happened.

Other Thoughts, Observations and Things Better Left Unsaid:
-Nate was awesome. Nate, apparently, is awesome. There are no two ways about it at this point. He's playing great. He topped 40 points against the Pacers. He topped 30 in the second half. Although he didn't have a nice game on Sunday in Toronto, he was very good on Friday night and had three 30-point games on the bounce before that. He is playing at a very high level and as good as anyone not named Lebron, Dwyane or Kobe. I'm not even sure how to process this information. He's a restricted free agent at the end of the season and I don't know what's going to happen. I don't what should happen. I think he's a sixth man. A very good sixth man and great back-up guard who can take over a game. But, how much can you pay for a sixth man when you don't have your 1st man yet?
-On the flip side, Chris Duhon is not right. I'm hoping that he's injured. Because he was scuffling again last night. He had four points, five assists and SIX turnovers in 36 minutes. Before the All-Star Break he had sat out a game because of an ankle injury and I'm hoping that's what's happening here. Otherwise, you've got think that the minutes he's been playing per game (38.7) has taken its toll on him. D'Antoni's been running him out there 10 minutes more than he's averaged during his career. The team's best lineup right now definitely has Duhon on the bench and Nate on the floor. Even when they were both on the floor in the second half last night, Duhon was anonymously hanging on the wing while Nate ran the team.
-David Lee missed two clutch free throws late in the game. I know that it's foolhardy to really pin blame for a win or a loss on any single play. I know that a final score is the totality of every play during the 48 minutes and that first quarter points count as much as fourth quarter points. I know those things. But if the Knicks would have lost then I would have blamed it on those missed free throws.
-Larry Hughes looks rustier than an 1980s Oldsmobile that's been parked on a lawn in Louisiana for six years.
-This game was ugly for long stretches. The Knicks should have pulled away but couldn't.
-Will Ferrell was sitting courtside. And, Nate does love him.

Read All About It:
The Times
Newsday
The Post
The News

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Post is Prologue: Pacers at Knicks

Pacers (24-34)
@
Knicks (23-32)
7:30 P.M EST
Madison Square Garden, NYC


This match-up makes me long for the NBA on NBC. For this site's namesake. For injury reports about Rik Smits' feet and Patrick Ewing's achilles tendon. For 4-point plays. For head butting. For screaming out heinous things about Cheryl Miller. For bile. For delight. And those confused feelings elicited by seeing Mark Jackson shimmying and shaking in a Pacers uniform.

Tonight's game likely won't raise echoes of any of those things. Although, I might - for old time's sake - yell out something undisprovable about my relations with Cheryl Miller. If you hear such classless utterances ringing through the 400 level do not be alarmed. But no matter how much we may pine for it to be, tonight's game is not tethered to recent Knicks history. Or even a fight for the soul of Herb Williams. It is, in fact, a perfect barometer of the present. With nearly identical records, both clubs are looking to find their way in the NBA. Both are contending to be a contender for the No. 8 seed in the East in the last month of the season. Both have shown themselves capable of competing with the league's better clubs. And capable of losing to the league's lesser ones. Rather than the Celtics or the Lebronaliers, teams like the Pacers are the Knicks competition right now. Which is why this is an important game as the team looks to improve.

And, make no mistake: the Knicks should win this game. They are at home. And, the Pacers are without leading-scorer Danny Granger and Knicks nemesis Mike Dunleavy. Unlike Sunday's game in Toronto, I think this is a should-win game for the Knickerbockers and I will be disappointed if they can't pull it out. The Knicks are giving 6.5 points tonight, which means Vegas agrees with my take on the action. Or at least, the betting public does. But, really, I can't imagine that bettors have been moving the line of a Knicks game much these days. To put that spread in perspective, the Knicks were getting just 5.5 against the Lakers and Celtics last week.

Weekend at Jimmie's

Or, How Jimmy Dolan's Knicks Fared Friday-Sunday

Friday: Raptors at Knicks
-Kenny Albert sits alongside Walt Frazier to call Game 1 of the home-and-home with the Toronto Raptors at the Garden. Albert looks so suburban and coarse next to Clyde. He is a poor man's Bob Pappa and has a generic Men's Warehouse flavor that most MSG broadcasters don't have. There's nothing wrong with him. He's good at what he does. I mean, the dude is Marv Albert's son. But he seems to gone to such lengths to not sound like his father that he sounds like every radio guy on the dial. I never would have thought it was going to happen, but I'm actually longing for Kelly Tripucka.

-With Chris Wilcox (in uniform) and Larry Hughes (in street clothes) on the bench, the Knicks send Duhon, Chandler, Harrington, Lee and Jeffries out to face Jose Calderon, Anthony Parker, Shawn Marion, Andrea Bargnani and Chris Bosh. I know he's just returning from injury, but Bosh has killed the Knicks in the past few years. He's been precisley the kind of athletic big that has exploited our weakness in the pivot.

-Before I can even get the plastic "cork" out of this fine $7.99 bottle of Yellow Tail Merlot that I bought from a Pharmacy, the Knicks have run out to a 7-0 lead.

7-0

-And a long ally-oop to Chandler extends the early lead. This team is playing with all the confidence earned in the win over the Spurs on Tuesday. The Knicks have hit from outside, they've tossed the oop to Chandler and Lee has gotten some put-back points in the interior. It's all working early.

9-0

-Bosh shows a flash of how good he can be. Lee faces him and begins driving at him from the wing and Bosh backpedals to stay in front of Lee and blocks his shot.

-Lee fouls Bosh early in the Raptors possession, a reminder of what separates Lee from the premier post players. Defense. Jeffries picks up Bosh once play is resumed.

-Shawn Marion's shot is still incredibly awkward.

-Except for guarding Bosh, it seems like each mismatch is tilting the Knicks way. We're attacking the rim relentlessly and pulling away. Even Jeffries is getting in the act.

19-7

-Nice round of applause for Nate when he check in. He drains a corner two almost immediately.

-With Bosh getting a rest the Knicks go right back to the pick and roll. Joey Graham fouls David Lee. I like the purposeful way that D'Antoni has the Knicks attacking the Raptors.

23-9

-Nate splits a double team of Bosh and a young guard who looks like he's about 9 years old, spins around Jason Kapono and lays the ball in just before Shawn Marion can close off his path to the rim. It's a simply amazing play. Nate is playing at such a high level right now. This week he is Manu Ginobli. Seriously. Next week he might be Ricky Davis. But this week he's awesome.

39-22

-With every thing clicking and in its right place, Q Rich steps out of bounds while handling the ball. I'd like to think that Larry Hughes will be able to take some minutes off Q's plate. And, that Q won't freak out. Which he will.

-And, with .1 seconds left in the first quarter Nate drops in a three pointer!

42-22

-Watching this first quarter makes me want to go buy lottery tickets.

-Gallo misses a three to start the second quarter. On the other end, Kapono gets a jumpshot to fall over the Italian, who has really come back to earth after a scorching start.

-The words "poise" and "savvy" are used to describe Nate by the MSG broadcast team. The Great embarrasses Bosh, who runs at him out on the perimeter only to be headfaked into the air and blown by. Nate slices and rises to the rim. And, no Raptors step in front of him. These guys won't step in front. It's like watching the Knicks defense under Isiah.

51-26

-Another three rattles in for Nate. If this game were being simulated in 1990s-era NBA Jam then Nate would have flames coming off of him. Nate's strutting over to bench during a timeout. And, he's not strutting in a showy way. It doesn't look like he's playing to any camera. This is just the way he's walking around the court right now. Like he owns it.

54-26

-Jeffries draws his second charge of the game. A long, skinny team like Toronto is the ideal matchup for Jeffries. In this game he really can guard all five positions. And, not just as a gimmick.

-Another bucket for Nate. He's got 15 off the bench in the first half and is on pace for his fourth straight 30-point game.

57-29

-And then the Great sloughs off his man to swat a Chris Bosh shot from the block!

-In the words of Frazier: "Nate's ubiquity is astounding the Raptors."

-Nate has scored nine straight for the Knicks

58-30

-It's the middle of the second quarter and Lee already has a double-double. It's his 18th straight.

-Lee gets by Bosh on the baseline, but Bosh recovers and strip-blocks him from behind as he goes to the rim. This one play says so much about both players. Lee's game has matured to the point where we can get by most bigger defenders off the dribble or on the catch-and-run during a pick and roll. Bosh is so quick that he can still recover to make a play on the ball even if he's been beaten at first. Oh, and this also shows us that David Lee loves to have his shot blocked.

-Chandler's shot from three is markedly improved from even a few weeks ago. He is able to catch and shoot with the same natural rhythm that he has from midrange.

70-42

-Gallo doesn't touch the ball like he used to. I don't know how much of this has to do with his increased nervousness on the floor and how much it has to do with his veteran teammates just bypassing him on offense. It's all sort of awkward at this point.

HALF

-Right out the gate, Al Harrington slices to the rim for layup. Yes! This is precisely the way that the Knicks needed to start this second half. I'd imagine that the Raptors just got an earful from their Canadian coach at the half. But unless they embark on the come back immediately the game is out of reach.

77-50

-Duhon goes baseline and gets another pair of Knicks points right at the rim. The Raptors look like last year's Knicks right now. They are giving up easy buckets. They are listless on defense. It's eery to watch a team that I don't know play a way that I know so well.

-Right after checking in, Nate glides by Jose Calderon after getting him to lean the wrong (anticipating a Lee screen) way, and bounces of Bargnani in the paint. Hoop and the harm! Playing at this level, Nate is clearly more like Allen Iverson than he is like Spud Webb or Earl Boykins. He's not a sideshow point guard. He's slasher and a scorer. And, he played college football. In the PAC-10. He's no little guy. Even if he's as tall as one.

-As the rout commences, Clyde provides Knicks fans a clue as to where he lives in the city. He lives near an Italian restaurant called Tiramisu. He doesn't eat the titular dessert but enjoys most everything else. The place is located on 3rd Avenue at 80th Street. Let the stalking commence.

-Bargnani gets the benefit of a bad call. Even though the Knicks lead by 30+, Al Harrington is angry about the foul call. The crowd boos ferociously. Clyde notes that crowd and the Knicks are "not taking anything for granted." Just as the Raptors look like the 2006-2008 Knicks, the home team looks like the D'Antoni-era Phoenix Suns. They're running up and down. They're moving the ball and they're not relenting. Because they know that no lead is safe.

-Bargnani hits another bucket. He's got 18 points and we're still in the third quarter. He's shown himself as a guy who can handle well for his size as well as being a capable shot-maker, but I still don't really know what to think of him. He's benefited from being defended by guards for long stretches and has scored most of these points once the game was out of reach. He's got talent but I'm still not convinced.

98-64

-The Knicks are fouling too much.

-The Raptors roll off an 11-0 run. Rather than making me nervous, the run only highlights how insurmountable the Knicks lead has become.

101-75

-The Knicks are still getting great ball movement early in the fourth. Jeffries penetrates, kicks to Gallo, who swings to Nate. Three!

104-75

-Dribble, dribble, too much dribbling to get Bargnani to shift his weight from one foot to the next on the perimeter. Nate shoots, swish. The Great has 26 points, with loads of time left. It's 30 points or bust.

-Nate's starting to showboat a bit as he brings the ball up the court. He's overdoing the between the legs dribble and sending out underhand passes. It makes me mildly uncomfortable.

-Chandler is making a case for himself to be the team's starting shooting guard. His shot looks terrific and he's playing without a conscience.

-D'Antoni strolls down to the end of the Knicks' bench and points at Jeffries, who starts to get up as D'Antoni begins turning back towards the action on the court. Nate seems to grab Jeffries by the shirt or shorts or somewhere as he jumps up. Jeffries stumbles for a step and starts laughing. This catches D'Antoni's eye. He turns back towards the bench to find Nate smiling up beatifically with a hand on his chin and a "who me?" look on his face. The coach pauses a beat and then at him. Nate grins, pops up and runs toward the scorer's table.

-One of the best things about watching the Knicks while they've been so bad the past few seasons has been listening to Clyde during the blowouts. It's been the one thing that I've missed with the team being competitive again. With this game out of hand, he informs us that he finds tatoos to be "outlandish."

-With two minutes to play, Nate Robinson is stuck on 26 points. Actually, stuck is the wrong word. He is not looking to shoot. He's feeding Chandler and seems disinclined to go for his fourth straight 30-point game.

-Under 40 seconds and Nate is dribbling down the clock and passing it to a teammate once the clock is down. He's being a point guard. He's not risking an injury by slashing to the lane. Or looking to pad his statsheet at the risk of giving his opponent even one more possession. I like it. I like it a lot.

FINAL SCORE: 127-97

Sunday: Knicks @ Raptors
According to Newton's Third Law of Motion, there is an equal and opposite reaction for every action. It's a little known fact that he conceived this law while watching a weekend home-and-home series between two local football clubs in his native Lincolnshire. It explains why it's so difficult to sweep the home-and-home series in hoops or the doubleheader in baseball. Waking up early on Sunday morning (and, by early I mean by noonish) I was never very convinced that the Knicks were going to win the second leg in Canada. And, to be honest, it didn't bother me. I'll take a split in a home-and-home and be happy with the weekend.

That being said, my middling investment in the matinee may have had more to do with the hour and less to do with the Knicks. After all, they were right in it. And, weren't turning in an effort nearly as lackluster as the performance the Raptors delivered at the Garden on Friday. Al Harrington, in particular, was having a heck of a ballgame. But there were just too many frayed edges for me ever to feel like the Knicks really were going to take this one. Duhon was uncharacteristically sloppy early, Wilson Chandler was anonymous throughout, Larry Hughes was rusty and down the stretch Nate was not playing in such a way that would have inspired those calling the game to use words like "poise" and "savvy." Unless, those words were to be followed by words like "not" or phrases like "marked lack of ."

FINAL SCORE: 100-111

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Ferry Walks Into a Bar

So, I'm standing near the entrance to a bar near my place in Jersey CIty. I'm drinking a pint of whatever is the drink that's on special that night. And an abnormally tall white dude wearing a leather jacket and sporting some receding and thinning dark hair steps in alone and sort of looks around. And, I say, "who the f*%k invited Danny Ferry."

Thankfuly, it just so happened that I was standing next to one of the half dozen people in the New York Metropolitan Area that gets the joke. We laugh. And laugh. And then talk about (BIll Simmons podcast style) that we were some of the only people who would get the joke.

Honestly, I think it's some of my best work. And, the people that know me know that I think very highly of my comedic talents. Too highly. I'm pretty sure this epitomizes the you-had-to-be-there genre. In fact, it actually is a sub-genre of that genre. This may have been the first you-had-to-be-there-and-be-an-obsessive-compulsive-NBA-fan joke of all time.

Friday, February 20, 2009

A Rose By Any Other Name Is... Younger, Faster, And Named Chris Wilcox

WWOD? Rates the Rose/Wilcox Swap

Malik Rose arrived in New York via trade (for Nazr Mohammed) during the 2004-2005 season. He played in 26 games down the stretch that year (under Herb Williams who had taken over for a deposed Lenny Wilkens) and averaged a shade over 23 minutes per contest. The following season he started in 35 games, the majority of which were late in the season as injuries took their toll on the club. In each season since his minutes have dropped precipitously. In 2008-09, Rose played in 18 games for the Knicks and averaged 8.9 minutes in those games that he did play. That leaves 35 games when he never got off the bench while the game was on. In his prime, he was a dogged defender who could be counted on to go after bigger post players and do everything he could to move them off the block. He would also get two or three buckets a night without having a play called for him. He was the glue guy of a championship Spurs squad. He was the sort of limited player that fits a role on a top-flight club and the sort of player that was too limited to make a difference on a bad team. Like the Knicks. By all accounts, Rose is a great teammate and as dogged in his charity work as he was working in the paint.

Yesterday, Knicks President Donnie Walsh shipped Rose to the StolenSonics in exchange for Chris Wilcox. The Knicks also included "cash considerations" to make up the small difference between the two contracts (small difference = less than a million dollars).

Ultimately, we traded away an older guy who rarely plays for a younger guy with some of the same skills who might actually play. And we did it without affecting the salary cap. I'm for this, in theory. I think the Knicks roster has had too many dead spots this season and this eliminates one of them at approximately zero cost.

Chris Wilcox is playing in his sixth NBA season after a noticeable (but, perhaps not noteworthy) career at the University of Maryland. He was drafted with the No. 8 pick in the 2002 draft by the Los Angeles Clippers. The Knicks tapped Nene with the No. 7 pick (and quickly traded him to the Nuggets) but had actually worked out Wilcox. At the time, I think was pulling for Wilcox selection. But this was probably because I was a college student who had just watched him help the Terps to a title. In those days, he was athletic and powerful. Unpolished and unrelenting. I liked those things then. I still do.

Before enrolling at Maryland, Wilcox led his high school squad to a state title in North Carolina. So, the guy grew up as a winner. And, then he ended up playing for the Clippers. Where he won less. After four forgettable seasons in LaLa land he was traded to the Seattle Sonics. He "blossomed" in the Emerald City, averaging more than 13 points and 7 rebounds in each of the last three seasons. His numbers were down across the boxscore this season - including an almost ten minute drop in minutes per game. The StolenSonics originally package him in the deal for Tyson Chandler. That deal was rescinded and he was quickly turned around and shipped to New York.

At worst, Wilcox is a version of Rose that Coach D'Antoni can feel comfortable about putting into a game. Even if he doesn't crack the regular rotation, he's a younger, taller, faster and stronger version of Rose. For about the contract and without any long-term implications. At best, Wilcox is a guy who can join the frontcourt rotation and toughen up the Knicks interior defense. He's the guy that takes the hard foul last week when the Knicks were being run over in Oakland against the Warriors. He takes some of the minutes off of Lee's plate, which should serve to keep him rested and to slightly depress his numbers (which will only help the club as we look to sign him to a contract after the season).

The biggest (and perhaps only) thing the Knicks lose by parting ways with Rose is his off-the-court leadership and his influence on the younger players. I would contend, though, that these things were much more necessary and valuable when the team was mired in dysfunction than they are now. When the team was being torn asunder by the feud between Isiah Thomas and Stephon Marbury or the feud between Isiah Thomas and the City of New York it was important to have Rose calming the younger players and staying on an even keel as the world burned around them. I think that skillset is less necessary on a team listening to its coach and not under siege from its fans.

Although it's hard to say that this trade is a resounding success at first sight, I think it's a deal that reaffirms the team's commitment to making the playoffs this season.

Grade: B
Reviews of the trades and such are minutes/hours away. Sorry for not posting yet today but it's been a busy, busy day using the skills that actually pay the bills. Unlike the "skills" I use at this blog that don't actually pay any bills.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Um, Nevermind: Nate is a Knick. Right?

Now, Alan Hahn is reporting that the Knicks turned down the offer from the Kings. I'm not sure if he's just a few dozen minutes behind Chad Ford at ESPN.com (see my post below) or if these talks were off-and-on during the past hour. Either way, it seems like the Knicks passed on a chance to significantly affect their 2010-2011 cap number in order to keep Nate around for at least the next few months.

BallHype: hype it up!

The Great Is Gone?


Newsday is now reporting that the Knicks will trade Nate Robinson and Jared Jeffries to the Sacramento Kings in exchange for Kenny Thomas. I guess this one must have gone down to the wire after Ford's (see below) report that the Knicks had balked originally.

No More Nate?

ESPN.com is reporting that the Knicks and Sacramento Kings are in talks to about a deal that sends Nate and Jared Jeffries out west in exchange for Kenny Thomas. Since clearing Jeffries' contract is a necessary part of the club's rebuilding effort and retaining Nate isn't a given it makes sense to make this deal if it's on the table and Donnie Walsh thinks it's the best chance to move JJ. It pains me, though.

UPDATE: The Worldwide Leader is now reporting the Knicks rebuffed the Kings offer. I'm relieved. Sort of.

BallHype: hype it up!

I'm Just Spitballing Here...

But what if Donnie Walsh picked up Chris Wilcox, a key cog in the aborted Tyson Chandler to OKC deal, in an attempt to bring Tyson to NYC. Donnie Walsh has (with Cutino Mobley) already shown a willingness to make moves in spite of what the doctors tell him about a player's health.

As I wrote earlier, Chandler fills a gaping need for the Knicks on defense and seems suited to get up and down the floor in D'Antoni's offense. I think if you paired David Lee (or Nate Robinson) with the incoming Wilcox then the numbers work to swap the pair for Chandler.

But, then again, I'm just spitballing here.

BallHype: hype it up!

Larry Hughes and Chris Wilcox Are Knickerbockers

With a little more than an hour left before the deadline for trading, the Knicks have pulled off two trades. The first sends Jerome James, Tim Thomas and Anthony Roberson to the Chicago Bulls in exchange for Larry Hughes. The second sends Malik Rose (and "cash considerations") to the StolenSonics in exchange for Chris Wilcox.

Larry Hughes (and Chris Wilcox) Is Allegedly A Knick

Hoops scribe Chad Ford, in a chat over at ESPN.com, wrote that the Knicks and Bulls have agreed to a trade that sends Tim Thomas and Jerome James to the Bulls in exchange for Larry Hughes. According to Ford, this deal is just waiting league approval.

At first blush, I dig the trade. We don't take on any salary past next season and we acquire a shooting guard while also opening up a roster space. There will be more to come from WWOD? as this report is confirmed.


UPDATE: Marc Stein at ESPN.com is reporting that the Knicks will also be acquiring Chris Wilcox from the StolenSonics and parting with Malik Rose and Anthony Roberson as the day goes along. He's unsure if this will go down as two separae trades or as one three-team deal. It seems like Roberson may be included in the Chicago deal if it is two separate transactions. Wilcox's contract expires after this season.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Anthony Roberson's name has been dropped from mentions of the trades over at ESPN.com. Maybe he's staying around.

High Noon Trade-Deadline Update

I don't exactly have breaking news in the real-time sense. This news is already broken. It appeared in a newspaper hours ago. But it was new news to me. So, maybe it is to you as well. According to an article in the Chicago Sun-Times, the Bulls might not be done dealing.

Sun-Times reporter John Jackson reports that "Guard Larry Hughes - whom the Bulls have been trying to trade for a month - didn't make the trip to Milwaukee," where the Bulls are playing tonight. Jackson mentions that Hughes is rumored to be headed to New York and then goes on to mention a deal "with the principles being Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich and Knicks power forward David Lee."



Using the ESPN Trade Machine, I've concocted a deal that includes all of these players. The Knicks send Lee, Malik Rose, Quentin Richardson (Chicago native and onetime star at DePaul) and Jerome James to the Windy City in exchange for Hinrich and Hughes. The 4-for-2 trade opens up two rosters spots for the Knicks (which potentially make up for the two spots belonging to Cutino Mobley and Stephon Marbury).

I'm not really sure what to make of this. Bringing back Hinrich (whose contract runs through the 2011-12 season) would likely necessitate moving Duhon or Nate in another deal to avoid a Bulls-like logjam at the point guard spot. Are we really committing to Hinrich as the point guard of the post-2010 Knicks? Is Duhon really going to lose his job to the same guy in two cities?

This deal wouldn't cut any payroll that wasn't already coming off the books by the end of next season. In fact, it would actually add Hinrich's salary to our cap number for 2010-11 and 2011-12. Everything else is more or less shifting deck chairs on the Titanic, I think. I guess, thinning out the roster would allow Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari more time to show what they're capable of out there. At this point, having Hughes at the 2 is probably an upgrade over Q at the 2/3 hybrid that he plays. But, I don't think these moves make the team substantially better in the short-term. The ESPN trade machine concurs, forecasting -3 wins for the Knicks if they made the deal I concocted.

Tick, tick, tick...

Happy Trade Deadline Day!

The National Basketball Association's deadline for trading players is 3 p.m. EST. Today. So, it's on. Like popcorn. I'm excited. I'm nervous. During the Isiah Error you just never knew what was going to happen on this day. But you knew something would happen. And, that it would probably involve taking on bad contracts and worse players, like the famed Trevor Ariza for Stevie Franchise move of 2006. Which aside from the symmetrical book stacking at the Philadelphia mass turbulence of 1947 is the most traumatic thing I've ever experienced.

Sort of friend of WWOD?, Alan Hahn at Newsday is reporting that David Lee is no longer on the trading block. ESPN was reporting that Newsday was reporting that David Lee is off the market. And, this is how the game is played. Someone "reports" something somewhere and then someone else reports on that report and it eventually ends up being reported on Sportscenter. Does this mean Lee won't be traded? Probably. But not necessarily.

First of all, if any club shows a willingness to take on Eddy Curry's contract then you've got be willing to include Lee in the deal. This won't be happening because Curry hasn't played all year and is likely as emotionally fragile as sort-of-Hornets center Tyson Chandler is apparently physically fragile. After being traded from New Orleans to the StolenSonics (in a salary dump), Chandler was marked "return to sender" by OKC doctors, who are concerned about his left big toe. In his own words, he was "super shocked." Me too. I didn't know we had decided that 26-year-old shot-blocking and ally-oop dunking centers were things to move around as freely as Tim Thomas. I must have missed that memo.

The only other way I see that Knicks consider parting with Lee is if the Hornets feel like they have to trade Chandler after all that has gone down in the past few days. If that happens and the Knicks can send Lee and Malik Roses's expiring contract to NOLA then you've got to think about it. It's true that Chandler's contract runs one year past the Summer of 2010 and this might complicate things. But it might not. After all, he's a top-of-the-second-tier center and he will only become a more tradeable asset as each year rolls of his pact. Most importantly, he would give the Knicks a shot-blocking presence on defense and a center who makes his living getting points without having plays run for him. If Walsh doesn't think that he'll be able to retain Lee at a rate that makes sense going forward then this as about as good value as you good ever get back for him.

As far as other deals allegedly in the works, Frank Isola of The Daily News has reported that the Knicks and the Bulls have talked about a deal that would bring shooting guard Larry Hughes to the Big Apple. Malik Rose's expiring contract would again be the key component, as Isola tells it. This deal, though, would require the Knicks to include at least one additional player in order for the dollars to make sense. Ideally (for the Knicks) the Bulls accept Rose's expiring contract and injured bench warmer Jerome James in exchange for Hughes, who was told early in the season that he will not be playing for the Bulls. Both James' and Hughes' contracts run through next season but James's costs about half as much as Hughes's. This would give the Bulls some cap relief next season while also giving the Knicks the stop-gap shooting guard (with a 2010 friendly contract) that Cutino Mobley was supposed to be. I'm not sure if the Bulls have the roster flexibility to pull of a two-for-one deal (especially when you're replacing one guy that does not play with two guys who will not play) so it's possible that any Knicks/Bulls deal would need to get even more involved. To this point, Isola does mention the possibility that David Lee could be included if Chicago was willing to part with Tyrus Thomas or Joakim Noah. Frankly, I don't see that happening. I don't think you trade Lee for those guys at this point even though they both come off the books after next season. As I said above, I think that you have to hope to use Lee to move Curry (perhaps in a sign-and-trade deal after the season) or you have to get an All-Star caliber player in return rather than a rental with potential, which is all that Noah and Thomas are at this point.

In It's-Probably-Too-Good-To-Be-True-News, there was a report this morning in a Yahoo! Sports roundup that the Washington Wizards were interesting in bringing Jared Jeffries back to the District. A few hours later, Hahn at Newsday reported in his blog that the story has "no legs". I wish it had legs because moving Jeffries (and his contract that pays him $6.46 million next season and, cue ominous music, $6.88 million the year after that) would making retaining David Lee (or Nate Robinson) far more realistic (presuming we could convince one or the other to take a backloaded deal). A swap of Jeffries for combo guard Mike James would be a coup for the Knicks. James could provide some of the off-guard scoring that the club had acquired Mobley for, share the court with Nate in the second unit and has a contract that ends after next season. But if the deal has no legs than it likely won't sprint across the finish line by 3 p.m. this afternoon.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Better Than Your Average Slump Buster

Nate Stays Super Against Spurs, Knicks Win in OT

According to UrbanDictionary.com, "when you're in a slump, you need an easy score to get your confidence back up and break the slump - a slumpbuster." There is no doubt that the Knicks needed one of these coming out of the All Star Break. They had lost six games on the bounce, including much publicized home losses to the Lakers, Lebronaliers and Celtics. They had lost at the buzzer in Portland, been decimated in Oakland and been equalled at the buzzer (and felled in OT) in Los Angeles.

(More to come...)

Read All About It
ESPN.com
Newsday
The Times

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Post Is Prologue: Spurs @ Knicks

Spurs (35-16)
@
Knicks (21-31)
7:30 P.M. EST
Madison Square Garden


The home stretch of the Knicks' 2008-2009 season begins tonight. Looking back to the other side of the All Star Break, the Knicks are on a six-game skid. Which is likely to reach seven games with the San Antonio Spurs in town. This group is not exactly who you'd consider a slump-buster.

It's not that I don't think the Knicks can beat the Spurs. I think the Knicks can beat anyone in the NBA on any given night. Yes we can! But I also think that the smart money picks the Knicks to lose this particular matchup more times than not. Getting +5.5 points from oddsmakers, it seems that I'm not the only one who thinks the Knicks are capable of, albeit unlikely to, win this game. This middle-of-the-road point spread makes the Spurs a smart bet. I won't take it, of course. After all, it's a smart bet. But, I'd think it would win two out of three times. Which just happens to be the percentage by which ESPN.com's Accuscore also favors the Spurs tonight at the Garden. The Worldwide Leader's Magic Eight Ball gives the Knicks about a 33% chance to end their losing streak. That sounds about right.

As (is again becoming) per usual, I've been trading emails today with a blogger who covers the Knicks' opponent. Below you'll find a back-and-forth with noted Spurs blog Pounding the Rock. If you head on over to their shop, you'll find my answers to their queries.

WWOD?: Coming out of the All-Star Break the Spurs are top their division and tied for second place in the West. Although most of the talk coming into the season was about the Lakers, is it Finals or bust for the Spurs? What are your expectations? What result makes this not a disappointing season in San Antonio?

Pounding the Rock: As you said, for most Spurs fans it's Championship or bust. There's a strong belief in the capacity of any Spurs team with a healthy Big Three of winning any given night against the elite of this league - and this season so far, that belief has been rewarded by important wins with an often hobbled team.

If there's one team that still seems a step beyond the Spurs, that's the Lakers, and the loss against them was probably the worst of this regular season. Regardless, if Manu can use both of his legs in the playoffs and we peak at the right time, I truly believe we definitely have a better-than-good chance of winning that series.

As long as Duncan plays like his MVP self, there can't be any goals other than championships.

WWOD?: Is it just a matter of being healthy or is there another reason that the Spurs seem to have clicked after a pedestrian (by your club's standards) November?

PTR: Well, our health has definitely been a factor. Tony is one of the best point guards in the league, and Manu is an All-Star caliber player, even though he's always snubbed. I dare you to find a top team in this league capable of losing two of its best three players and not plummet in the standings, especially in the West.

However, that's certainly not the entire story. The Spurs have a solid system and they stick to it. It takes new players some time to buy into it, to understand the general philosophy Pop enforces and accept their roles. The new guys, Mason and Hill, slowly adjusted and rose up to the occasion. When Tony and Manu came back there was a new adjustment period for both of them, but through the season Hill and Mason in particular have propelled the team beyond last season's limits.

Last but not least, Matt Bonner's emergence as a true NBA starter was as unexpected as welcome. While not completely consistent, his accurate 3-point sniping has opened up lanes for Tony, Manu and Tim. He's even developed the ability to create his own shot at odd moments... The sky's the limit for the Red Rocket. (Okay, not really.)

WWOD?: We all know about The Big Fundamental, Manu and Mr. Longoria. Who are the Spurs players flying under the radar that we should pay special attention to tonight?

PTR: I think I answered you in the previous questions, more or less. It's always difficult to stop the Big Three, unless they're having a rare off night, so your best bet is containing everyone else. The obvious and biggest threats are Mason and Bonner, capable of making triples rain if left open. Finley is a streaky shooter, so if he starts on and scores in his first few jumpers, you're better off putting a good defender on him. Hill can drive and get fouls and has a deceptive jumper that turns on at the best times, and can make momentum-swinging defensive plays.

But the real threats are Mason and Bonner, from beyond the arc. And that's a statement I never thought I'd type not four months ago...

WWOD?: The Spurs allow the second fewest points per contest and the Knicks score the third most while attempting the most field attempts per game. How does San Antonio impose their own style on an opponent like the Knicks?

PTR: Honestly, in the past the Spurs haven't done a good job imposing their style when playing D'Antoni's Suns. Occasionally they've slowed the games through half-court sets and lockdown defense, but rarely during the four quarters. Our success against the 7-seconds-or-less Suns came from out-D'Antoning them, really -- we were chameleons, beating them at their own game in high-scoring affairs.

Nowadays we've slipped a bit on the defensive end (stil probably among the top 5 in the league, though), but we have more true scoring threats. Unless we up the intensity after the ASG, I expect the Knicks to sink because of a three-point barrage from our wings.

WWOD?: In the past, Robert Horry has been the guy who hit the dagger three in a big spot. And even Bruce Bowen had a handful of spots on the floor where he was deadly. With Horry gone and Bowen mostly gone is Roger Mason, Jr. officially the guy who is going to hit that HUGE shot in the playoffs? I'm guessing the ideal spot would be a buzzer-beating three from the bench-side corner in a Game 5 upset over LA in the Conference Finals, which would allow the Spurs to clinch at home in Game 6. Sound good?

PTR: It sounds godly. Where do you want me to sign? I'm not sure how "gone" Bruce will stay as we approach the playoffs. In any case, yes, Mason is now the man. We are all convinced of his clutchness, and the best thing is, he's convinced too. He shoots without conscience -- he took that game-winner at Boston two weeks ago after a horrible shooting night, with a lot of time left in the clock and off-balance. I was already trying to kill him with my mind when the ball went in, and I simply couldn't believe it. He's everything we hoped he'd be (which isn't much) and more.

In last-play situations I still prefer Manu and Tim over him, but if Tony has to kick the ball out to an open shooter, that shooter has to be named Roger Mason Jr.

WWOD?: I'm a huge fan of RC Buford and the work he has done as a GM. Having my club run by Isiah Thomas for a few years only cemented my adoration of Buford. Depending on how he doles out contracts and extensions, the Spurs can be a big player in the much-ballyhooed Summer of 2010. How do you think he should play it? Does he re-sign Manu and try to extend Parker or try to construct another, younger core (maybe with Joe Johnson, or even Wade or LBJ) to compete for titles as Duncan gets older (and possibly takes a reduced role)?

PTR: I sincerely doubt Wade or BronBron would come to San Antonio. It's a small market and they won't be able to sell much, rosin powder and personalized band-aids notwithstanding. No, letting Tony go to rebuild around an enigma doesn't make any sense.

Personally, I wish Manu retired as a Spur, and I think he can bring a lot to the table even if he were 40-years-old. I expect Manu, Tony and Tim to accept cuts in their salaries to let Buford and Pop to shop for a fourth banana when the time comes, because I don't have the shadow of a doubt that championships are first and foremost in their minds. Panic trades and wild gambles have never been part of the Spurs' organization, so I doubt that will change in the near future.

Unless we trade for Carter or 'Sheed in the next two weeks, that is.

Happy Birthday Al "Buckets" Harrington

Today is Jersey-native Harrington's 29th birthday. I'm sure the present that his teammates are hoping to give him is a home win over the San Antonio Spurs.

The WWOD? Interview: Alan Hahn

Also Known As, Part 1 of the WWOD? Second-Half Preview Spectacular

The concept of the "interview" is most commonly thought of as it pertains to job applications. In those cases, the person being interviewed is looking to prove something to the questioner. Going way back to way-back times in history that we've mostly learned about in school books and in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, there is the Socratic manner of questioning. Which isn't really interviewing at all. It's more like asking a series of questions in order to get someone to agree with you. It's equal parts educational and manipulative. This is a large part of my strategy when playing Risk. A more recent formulation of the interview was postulated by Andy Warhol's Interview magazine, which was a celebrity-obsessed mag that focused on fashion and art. And, occasionally, Burt Reynolds.

The WWOD? Interview is like none of these things. Perhaps it's best described as an inversion of the job interview, in which the questioner worked for Warhol and was interviewing Socrates. By posing questions to someone more knowledgeable and better credentialed than me, I hope to learn things that I do not know and gain insight into those things that remain murky to my lesser intellect.

In the first installment of The WWOD? Interview (which is also the first installment of the multi-part preview of the second half the Knicks 2008-2009 season which will be rolling out through the next few days), I've been lucky enough to have one of the NBA's top beat writers agree to read through a terribly overwrought line of questioning and provide a few insightful answers. Alan Hahn covers the New York Knickerbockers beat for Newsday and has been one of the best at wedding beat reporting and blogging. His blog, The Knicks Fix, is a daily stop for any die-hard Knicks fan with a desk job. Hahn formerly covered the Islanders and took over the Knicks beat in 2006. Aside from having the X's and the O's down cold and being un-beholden to any particular players (and not overly concerned with which of his colleagues/competitors is beholden to particular players), Hahn has really set himself apart from the pack with his level-headed and mathematically sound understanding of all the ins and outs facing the Knicks as 2010 looms. He takes his work deadly serious but also seems to keep his topic in perspective, mixing in humor and going easy on the fire and brimstone that characterizes much of the coverage that we've grown accustomed to in and around New York City. He probably is also kind to the elderly and a good tipper.

So, I sent Mr. Hahn (left) ten rambling questions over the weekend. He sent back ten cogent answers. If it were up to me I'd have kept at him until he our exchanges were less cordial. I'd have kept picking his brain about hoops until a restraining order was at least mentioned casually. But, I didn't. Because Hahn seems to be a genuinely nice guy and someone who I would love to keep on friendly terms with.

When James Lipton and the fine folks at The Actors Studio wanted to begin an interview series in 1994 they aimed high when booking their first guess. They brought in Paul Newman, since the man who played the titular role in Cool Hand Luke and breathed life into Butch Cassidy and Reg Dunlop represented the height of the acting craft. Well, Alan Hahn is WWOD?'s Paul Newman. Please give him your undivided attention.

WWOD?: Before we open up the playbook and get into the first half (and then some) of the Knicks 2008-2009 season, I'd like to get to know a bit more about our guest. So far, we've figured out that you're quite tall by layperson standards, that you previously covered the Strong Islanders of the NHL before landing the Knicks beat and that you (perhaps along with Peter Abraham of The Journal News) have best grasped the relationship between beat reporting and blogging. How did you end up on the Knicks beat? Was this a destination you had in mind when you embarked on your career as a journalist?

Alan Hahn: Thanks for pointing out my freakishly abnormality, though I feel so normal at 6'6" when I'm in an NBA locker room. Then again, I'm 6'6" with a college basketball background and yet I'm holding a tape recorder instead of a ball or a clipboard. Which is kind of depressing. So, again, thanks for pointing that out....Turning more serious, I have to say from the perspective of what I expected out of life as a 12 year old, I've accomplished two dreams I had, which was to cover the Islanders and Knicks, which were my two favorite teams growing up as a sports fan. I was quite happy covering the Isles and could have stayed there for another 10 years (unless the franchise moved to Kansas City...then forget it). I had always followed the Knicks with some interest and the NHL lockout allowed me some time around the team as a backup and sidebar writer. My editor approached me in 2006 about making a change and said he wouldn't take no for an answer. It was a tough transition, but also fun for me because I already had so much of the team in my blood from a historical point of view. I still miss hockey, but I also felt a little bit like coming home when I got back to basketball.

WWOD?: Your employer is Newsday, which from afar seems to offer both advantages and disadvantages when it comes to covering the Knicks. It must be mentioned that both your paper and the team you cover fall under the purview of a certain member of a band called JD & the Straight Shot. I'm going to guess that you'd inform me that both Dolan-helmed companies are a pleasure to be around if I were to ask. So, I'm not even going to ask that question. Moving on, has the fact that Newsday has a smaller print presence in the Big Apple and its non-LI environs been an impetus in building up (and being permitted to do so by your editors) such a robust web presence? Or was The Knicks Fix blog something that just came to you naturally?

AH: Please refer to him as "Mr. Dolan" henceforth. And to be very honest, I have not experienced anything -- anything -- that would suggest I have any reason to benefit or be concerned about being owned by the same parent company as the team I cover. I know on the surface it is natural to wonder or speculate so I understand the question. Anyway...I think we do a great job with our web content, arguably the best among the NY-based newspapers. I don't think our location on Long Island was the motivation to go big on the web...it is the direction we believe our business is headed and we, I like to think, are at the forefront. We set a precedent that you might notice the other NY tabs have followed. All of the beats have a blog. The Knicks Fix evolved from there and continues to evolve as I try to provide what I think the Fixers want and what the blog should be. It's fun and, sometimes, a great release.

WWOD?: Between the various distractions under the previous management junta and the incessant discussion of the Summer of 2010 since Donnie Walsh took the reins of the franchise it seems as if at least half the story with these Knicks has been off the court in the past few seasons (probably going back to that stillborn run at the playoffs in 2006—07). Has this been a hindrance to covering the club or has it actually helped, insofar as there is endless fodder for discussion even when the play is uninspiring? After all, greatness and disrepute move more papers than mediocrity.

AH: I think what you're asking me in all those words is does the fact that there is a lot of off-the-court stuff to discuss make it easier to cover a team that is otherwise uninteresting right now? The answer is this: I think all teams are covered the same. If the Mets were out of it in August, the beat writers -- good ones -- would find angles to keep the reader engaged and interested. You have to keep a relevant topic going . . . not necessarily make up something or blow up a minor story. . . I mean find the relevant story. For the Knicks its the 2010 plan, its how things happening now are impacted by that plan (i.e.: not making a major move at the trade deadline because you don't want to compromise your cap space in 2010 by adding salary now). It's what to do with David Lee and Nate Robinson. Etc. To write about what happened at practice for a team that has been essentially eliminated (not that the Knicks have yet, but if and when they do), is irrelevant. I can't imagine fans want to know about a lineup change, at least not as the main story, when the game that night really doesn't mean anything. To me, if and when the Knicks are inching toward elimination, we should be focusing on the development of Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler and what could happen with David Lee and Nate Robinson, etc. Our job is to find the stories that are most relevant to the team. I actually think it's harder to cover a losing team than it is to cover a winning one. Winning teams are easy. The angles come every day. The games always matter. Matchups matter. Strategy matters. But for losing teams, March and April can feel like an eternity, especially if the coach isn't on the hot seat.

WWOD?:.Now, that we've gotten to know you and have a better understanding of how it is that you do that thing you do so well it's time to turn out attention to the court. What do you see as the best-case scenario for the second half of the Knickerbockers season? What did you see as the best-case scenario coming into the campaign?

AH: I still see it the same way: if the Knicks can show the league (and the fans) that they are no longer a circus act, it's a start. If they can hang in the playoff race for most of the season, it's a good sign. A nice playoff push, whether they achieve it or not, is a major step. If they somehow can make the playoffs, all well and good. But deep down I think it's more valuable for the franchise to get one more lottery pick. They don't have one in 2010 and you certainly don't expect to be in the lottery in 2011. So here's the chance to land one more quality young player (cheap contract for a while) before you make a run at the big-name players in 2010 (via trades or free agency). So right now the best-case scenario in my mind is that Gallinari continues to emerge and maybe starts to show his potential and the Knicks stay in the playoff race up into April instead of having meaningless games before the Final Four.

WWOD?: Looking back at the season thus far, the player who has exceeded my expectations by the greatest measure is Chris Duhon. I was underwhelmed by his signing during the offseason and uninspired by his play very early in the season. But, he seemed to find his way during a November game at Washington and really come into his own. How much credit can be given to Coach D'Antoni's system? The abundance of minutes? And to the player himself? I'm inclined to think that he won't be here for the long haul in spite of his fine play thus far this season, but what are your thoughts on Duhon's future in a Knicks uniform?

AH: I think even Chris Duhon would admit his success this season is a direct result of the system. Look at Steve Nash's season in Phoenix right now. His game has suffered tremendously in D'Antoni's absence. For the right point guard, this system can really make you look good (statistically speaking). That's why D'Antoni was so convinced that Duhon was a good fit. His game was right for the demands of that position. But you also have to credit Duhonfor having the cubes to handle the Stephon Marbury situation during training camp. Chris has really raised his profile after turning into a backup guard in Chicago. I think they'll look to extend him after next season, but the cost will be interesting. My only curiosity is his durability. The minutes are very demanding, especially without a backup PG on the roster. But the guy is tough and, I believe, is a winner.

WWOD?: Moving on from Duhon's future to that of his teammates, have you gotten a feel for how the lack of certainty surrounding virtually everyone on the roster (save Danilo Gallinari, probably) has affected these guys on a nightly basis? It would seem to me that it must make it difficult for anyone to assume a leadership role or to demand accountability when there is really no one with much solid ground under foot.

AH: I think you said a lot there about where the Knicks are as a team and what this season is all about and why the 2010 plan is so important. This is a team with players, probably mostly role players and some who could be key pieces to a great team, but the biggest thing they are missing - aside from a two guard or a backup point guard or a shot-blocking big man -- is a true leader. A superstar who can be the main man. The Knicks haven't had this element since Patrick Ewing. Period. And they just won't have that accountability and standard until they get someone like that again. The guy who just won't accept losing and who makes everyone else raise their game to his level. Those are special players who don't come along in salary-dump trades. And that's what makes 2010 so critical to this franchise's future, in my opinion.

WWOD?: The two (important) players whose futures are most unclear are Nate Robinson and David Lee? Lee (with the help of yeoman's minutes) has played his way into a borderline All-Star and lock for 10/10 whereas Nate has been both The Great (aside from his HUGE game against LAC, that 19-point second quarter he had against Charlotte was out of this world) and The Goat. Both are fan favorites that may be casualties of the rebuilding process. Do you think either player would be inclined to re-sign at a discount to stay in New York? Do you think the club has designs on keeping either (or both)? And, if the Knicks are actually able to lure Lebron James and Chris Bosh here in 2010 then do either current Knicks even crack a championship-caliber starting lineup?

AH: I'm not sure it makes sense for anyone in their situation, at their age, to sign for a "discount". It's idealistic, but ridiculous to expect from players so early in their careers. Now saying that....either or both could re-sign backloaded deals that take some pressure off the 2010 cap situation. That is something I can see. But will they be able to sign both players and not compromise 2010? Doubtful, at least not unless they can move Eddy Curry's $11.2M salary off the books for 2010. As for signing LeBron or Bosh or whomever . . . I think any team becomes a championship contender if they can bring in two legit all-star players. Look at the Celtics. They brought in Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. They added him to Paul Pierce and the worst team in the NBA won the title. It can be done.

WWOD?: In my discussion with other NBA bloggers I am frequently asked how I feel about the Knicks "throwing away" two seasons in a most-likely doomed, all-in gamble for Lebron James. I always turn the question around and ask what exactly the club threw away. Yes, we dumped Jamal and Z-Bo but we also are on track to win more games this season than we did last season. I'll contend that the club is aiming to rebuild through free agency and that even without Lebron (or Wade) the club will be better off in two years than it was last year. Do you see Walsh's strategy as overly dependent on signing Lebron (or Wade)? Do you think the team actually threw away two seasons? Or that the regime is trying to navigate the straightest-line course from the purgatory they found the club in?
AH: I don't think fans can get so fixated on one guy. Even if the media have given no indication to the contrary so far. Do I believe he'll stay in Cleveland? Yes. But so many things can happen between now and then so you always have to leave the door open. However, regardless of LeBron, the Knicks are doing the right thing by getting under the cap in time for a summer where so many of the league's top players are expected to be available. And even if they aren't free agents, the Knicks could acquire players in a trade. So it's a good strategy...better than anything we've seen over the past decade, I would argue.

WWOD?: As much as it has become a topic as tiresome and eye-roll inducing as bank bailouts, we would be negligent to neglect it altogether. What should be the denouement of the Marbury saga? Forgetting how we got to this point, what do you see as the most sensible – and fair – conclusion to this course of events that has sullied the reputations of all parties? Is there any chance that Duhon's current injury provides one last chance for reconciliation?

AH: I believe the best approach is what we're seeing now: pay him to stay away. Let the contract melt off the payroll and let him be a free agent this summer. Wish him well and move forward. It makes no sense to pay him to be a free agent and then allow another team to benefit from your generosity. He is under contract and your obligation is to pay him. Period. So you pay him. Period. In the state of our current economy, I don't know how anyone can feel empathy for someone who will be handed $20.8M to stay home. It's almost like a severance pay, which many bank executives can relate to. The rest of us can only dream about it. And, quite frankly, if Stephon really really wanted to play and had a team that desperately wanted him...don't you think he would accept the Knicks buyout offer and move on, knowing he could make that money back in free agency this summer? Don't you think he'd have far more value this summer as a free agent if he finished the season playing great for a playoff team and had a great run in the post-season? But right now, if he winds up not playing this entire year, he goes into the summer not playing in an NBA game for 18 months and a year older and with teams wondering if he is worth the risk. Just bloggin.

WWOD?: In the kiddie-pool shallow view of many fans, you have a great gig because you get tickets to Knicks games, get to meet the players and travel the country. And while those things are true, I know there's a lot more to it. There's the airplane smell that you can't get out of nostrils, the being away from family and friends, the exhaustion of getting in to a strange city in the middle of the night and then getting up early to attend a morning shootaround before a Sunday afternoon game where players won't give you a straight answer about the location of a fire extinguisher even after you've burst into flames. We now it's not all courtsides and high fives. But, what has been the best I-can't-believe-I'm-actually-here-right-now moment that you've had while covering the Knickerbockers?

AH: Whoa. Who gets tickets to Knicks games? I don't. I have a season credential. It's only for me and, I mean, I'm not there with a beer and my buddies kicking back. I'm sitting with a laptop keeping notes, following stories and writing like mad to make deadline. The travel can make you forget what day it is, never mind the city. Like you said, it's crazy. I tell my family and friends...I'm around in the summer. But from October to April I'm a ghost. I loved it when I was single, but once you get married and have kids, it can really rip your heart out sometimes. But it's also a great adrenaline rush. So no complaints. Just lots of cell minutes and web cam conversations with the kids. It's funny, some fans don't even realize we actually travel. They think we watch the games on TV and write about it off that. Hilarious. I love the reaction I get from people when they go, "You mean you get to go in the locker room?" Yeah! Sweaty towels and everything! But the I-can't-believe-this-is-happening-to-me moment hasn't happened yet. I imagine it would come if I ever covered the Islanders in the Stanley Cup Finals or the Knicks in the NBA Finals. It would have to be something surreal. Something I enver thought I'd ever get to see. Something magical. Maybe that's my new dream. I want to grow up and cover a championship team.

And, that's all we wrote. Please go check out Hahn's fine work over at The Knicks Fix and pick up a copy of Newsday at a newstand near you to read all about the latest Knickerbockers news from a guy covering the game with a diligence, honesty and fealty to his readers that is increasingly rare these days.